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Connoisseur's Guide · Europe · spain · Spain · Top European Restaurants by Martins Ritins

elBulli

Author: Mārtiņš Rītiņš0 COMMENTS

elBulli

elBulli is the most extraordinary culinary adventure on earth! The multi-award-winning highly acclaimed restaurant takes us to the world of haute cuisine and initiates to molecular gastronomy which involves so much more than just a good meal: it means playing with our senses and mental sensations. Molecular gastronomy is a game with the chemical and physical properties of the ingredients; as a result of clever and complex manipulations, food with a completely different texture, structure and form is obtained, a guarantee of the ultimate explosion of flavours. And you should never believe what you see on your plate: whatever it is, it is sure to taste in a completely different way!
The season at elBulli only lasts six months (April to December); during the rest of the year, a host of highly skilled culinary experts toil at their laboratories under the guidance of the world's most famous chef Ferran Adrià to develop the menu for the new season; every year, it includes new gastronomic fantasies and, of course, a selection of well-known elBulli hallmarks. The novelties of each season are always compiled in fat books. Ferran Adrià has nothing to conceal - anyone is at liberty to try and repeat the feats of his kitchen; elBulli, however, is definitely in a league of its own, impossible to compare to any other restaurant in the world. elBulli is the alma mater of chefs worldwide - it is anyone's dream to train in this kitchen for at least a season.
Indeed, it is not only in the culinary circles that elBulli is considered the world's most sought-after and desired dining venue; each season, it is visited by some 8000 restaurant-goers; the opportunity to dine here is something of a lottery: tables are booked up to a year in advance; cancelling is unheard of here. However, should anyone be prevented from turning up, elBulli would have no difficulty at all to find someone only too happy to enjoy an incredible meal.
Perhaps somewhat surprisingly, the decor of the dining halls is very simple and traditional, completely kitsch-free: a fact partly explained by the Spanish summer villa-style building being a listed structure of cultural and historical significance and thus protected from any reconstruction or updating attempts. The 54 seats are arranged by comfortable traditional tables; white walls, white tablecloths and napkins; a vase on each table cradles a single lovely rose. The dinnerware, however, is different every year - always designed to fit ideally the dishes served. The elBulli kitchen is likewise adjusted and re-equipped, updated to keep up with the latest trends at the restaurant.
Incidentally, the kitchen is where the unusual night at elBulli starts. Following the waiter's kind invitation to take a little tour of the heart of elBulli, we encounter Ferran Adrià in person, presiding over 50 chefs from every corner of the world.
Next, a four to five-hour journey into the world of flavours follows. Before the meal, the waiter inquires about any allergies the diner might be suffering from; once all the possible misunderstandings and incidents have been considered and forestalled, you can surrender yourself completely to the hospitality of the attentive staff. Since there is no printed menu, during the time spent at elBulli, you just have to relax and savour the 35 or so tiny helpings of the various dishes. Each of them is a work of art and needs to be accompanied by a brief instruction offered by the staff: you are pointed out the correct way of eating and enjoying each course. Some of the culinary wonders are very fragile, even hard to handle; once successfully manoeuvred into your mouth, they literally melt there, delivering a real symphony of flavours. Another important factor is this mental game going on when you think you are eating one thing, yet your brain is registering a completely different flavour. You are served risotto; however, the actual rice is replaced by green walnuts which have, in fact, retained the characteristic crunchiness of a good risotto; an oyster leaf with (vinegar) dew - an ordinary green leaf into which the composite essential flavour of an oyster has somehow been „magicked"; a coconut sponge; a raspberry cookie; rabbit ears; dishes inspired by cedar: nuts, broth, translucent dumplings, prawns, squid, sea mussels or a marine crayfish that was alive and swimming only a few minutes ago. Fresh walnuts - normally, under different circumstances, they are hardly likely to knock your socks off; here they are served absolutely fresh (as opposed to dry), without a single tiny scrap of skin in sight: a phenomenal effort has been made to remove the membrane, revealing a perfectly white nut. Not to mention the truffles! You will not have experienced anything to rival the texture and the flavour. They also serve more ordinary dishes, like langoustine cooked to melt in your mouth.
You can choose your wine with the help of the sommelier, and the staff will be working throughout the night like a well-oiled engine to ensure that your glass never stays empty. While the service is very natural and unobtrusive, the staff make you feel that they are always by your side whenever needed, taking care of the smallest details as a united team.
While we are on the subject of beverages - at elBulli, you have to order the wine you would like to enjoy. It is not co-ordinated with the rest of the meal; the selection, however, is quite impressive. The restaurant's 148-page wine card is dominated by Spanish wines; it does, however, feature the world's most famous wines regardless of their origin, and all of the most important wine-making regions are represented as well. The wine card is exhaustive enough to cater to the taste of any diner, both flavour- and price-wise. elBulli does not have a wine cellar; part of the stock is housed in the top floor of the restaurant building, the rest - comprising additional 20 000 bottles - is stored in Barcelona.
The guests are presented with the printed menu along with A Day at elBulli, a book describing every single item enjoyed during the night at the restaurant and also its way to your plate. By the time the dinner is over, you are already firm friends with most of the waiting staff; then an after-dinner cup of coffee... and a walk towards the waves of the Mediterranean Sea.
Actually, finding your way to the restaurant is part of the pleasure provided by the elBulli experience. It is located in the town of Roses on the Costa Brava, Catalonia - on top of a cliff overlooking the Cala Montjoi bay. First the road serpentines upwards, then turns downhill. It is hardly advisable to try and make it there on your own: the narrow road is separated from a precipice by less than half-metre - getting there is best left in the hands of professional cabbies. The view of the Mediterranean valley and the small hill-flanked bay is fabulous - possibly one of the most breathtakingly beautiful in the world. When asked why another elBulli had not already been opened elsewhere in the world, Ferran Adrià answered: Because there is no other place in the world as beautiful as this.

- Dinner for one, wine inclusive - approx. EUR 250

- elBulli awards and recognition:
 1st place in The World's 50 Best Restaurants guide in 2002, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009
 The first Michelin star awarded in 1976, second - in 1990, third - in 1997

- elBulli was founded in 1961 by Dr Hans Schilling and Mrs Schilling, a German couple. In 1984, the staff was joined by the culinary star Ferran Adrià.

 

! On July 30th 2011 elBulli will have completed its journey as a restaurant to transform into a creativity center, opening in 2014. Its main objective is to be a think-tank for creative cuisine and gastronomy and will be manage by a private foundation.

www.elbulli.com

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